First of all, you can think of my blog post is bias as I am a Rams fan. The point is this post is to show how restructuring the playoffs because of a bad NFC West team will make the playoffs is ridiculous at this time. I understand fans and the media’s frustration there will be more worthy teams not making the playoffs, but the thing that people seem to ignore is this isn’t the first time or last time it’ll happen. Also if this is a rare occurrence, that should initiated an argument for a complete overhaul on the playoff structure.
I mention this before in previous posts, but the Chargers won the AFC West in 2008 season with an 8-8 record and the 11-5 Pats missed the playoffs due to tiebreakers. I don’t remember much controversy over this, or with the Chargers having the home game win against the Colts in the Wild Card round during the playoffs. A similar situation has happen before, but what bothers me how it didn’t became a big deal with the media back in 2008. It seems favoritism has played into this argument which I think is wrong. Just when an NFC West team is in the same situation, it seems like it’s a big deal and a travesty on sports. Throughout most sports, the division/conference winner gets a post-season spot. In baseball there have been several division winners going into the MLB playoffs over better teams who missed the wild card spot. In March Madness back in 2004, Flordia A&M went into the tournament with a 14-16 record because they won the MEAC conference tournament and were the conference champs. Just because occasionally a bad team will make the postseason doesn’t mean the entire post season needs to be restructured. This is the same for the NFL and there will be teams that get the short end of the stick. That is sports.
The reason we have seen some mediocre teams make the playoffs in recent years is because there are 4 divisions now. The old structure had 3 division winners, and 3 wildcard teams. The old structure provided more stability among the divisions and didn’t have lopsided divisions when they were better teams from better conferences that missed the playoffs due to weaker divisions taking away a playoff spot. If there is any restructuring, then the old 3 conferences make the most sense. Taking away a division playoff spot and giving it back to a wild card team is fair. I will support that restructure argument if it’s brought up.
A common idea I’ve heard is having the best teams go into the postseason based on records. On paper it seems very simple and fair. The problem with the NFL is this idea isn’t practical. First is there have been numerous teams every year in the NFL with the same record. If we based this on records, then tie breakers would be a huge issue. The first issue you run into is that the head to head tie breakers may not work as well with this format as not every team will face each other because there is only 16 games in the NFL season. The biggest issue with scheduling is the strength of someones schedule. We could see teams with a 10-6 record in the AFC East miss the playoffs while the 11-5 AFC West goes. Based on overall record that looks fair, but if you compare both teams schedules with the current teams in both divisions, the AFC East is a better overall conference. At least division winners with some conferences that are overall stronger than other conferences keeps the division winner meaningful as not every win and loss record is simple to dissect.
To base the playoffs solely on record, the most practical way to do it is have two divisions like the NBA with an East and West. That causes issues as I said before, there is only 16 games in the season. There are going to be numerous issues with scheduling as there will be teams that had tougher schedules or tougher road games over another team, and so forth. The reason this structure works in the NBA is there are enough games that teams will face other both on the road and at home. That is impossible in the NFL with 16 games. The current format at least allows each division team face each other twice, one at home and on the road. That is fair, but that fairness will be thrown out the window in the the 2 division format. Someone will get a bad schedule each year, and it will cause more controversy than there is now. Sports isn’t always fair, but at least the current format has prevented more inequalities from arising in this game.
The biggest issue for the playoffs in the NFL is it based on only 16 games a season. Every year there are going to be good teams that missed the playoffs due to tie breakers or division winners because there aren’t enough games to give complete picture on who is truly the best. As of now, the way the NFL is setup the division winners getting a playoff spot seems the most fair. Even if this year the NFC West is absolutely horrible, it at least keeps division winner to fight for. It at least provides more diversity in the game allowing more inter-conference games and creating diversity with teams schedules. And with the 4 divisions and tie breaker structure that is currently in place, the current setup makes the most sense, especially with the wild card teams. The current structure at least allows division winners and most wild card teams have an equal shot with the current tie breaker system. The reason the Pats missed the playoffs in 2008 is they lost the tie breakers on head to head match ups in the AFC East, then lost the wild card spot as they were 7-5 in the AFC while Baltimore Ravens were 8-4 in the AFC. That shows that there will be good teams miss the playoffs due to failing to win more crucial games, and keeping the divisions and their winners meaningful. Finally just because one year there is a bad team that makes the postseason doesn’t mean the current structure is broken and needs to be reformatted.